You are here

U.S. American Identity Abroad

Tool Objectives: 

1. To differentiate between stereotypes and generalizations and how stereotypes impact intercultural learning.

2. To reflect on how U.S. Americans are perceived internationally, both positively and negatively.

3. To explore ways to dispel misperceptions and combat negative stereotypes of U.S. Americans.

Tool Description: 

As students travel and study abroad, they encounter a range of positive and negative stereotypes of U.S. Americans.  This tool begins the process of understanding stereotypes and generalizations and how preconceived notions of a culture group can impact intercultural encounters. Through class discussions and an optional assignment, students explore ways to dispel misperceptions and combat negative stereotypes of U.S. Americans.

Tool Procedures: 
  1. Initial Brainstorming. Begin by asking students to individually generate two lists. The first should list characteristics frequently associated with those in the international destination. The second should list characteristics frequently associated with U.S. Americans. (Clarify the convention of using “U.S. American” versus “American”.) Once students have a few items for each list, ask them to share their lists with the class. Write up a master list on the blackboard so that all can observe emerging commonalities. Invite students to share their reactions to the two lists, whether they agree or disagree with them and the extent to which the characteristics are applicable to themselves and their family and friends. 
  2. Differentiate Stereotypes & Generalizations. Reviewing the two lists, differentiate between stereotypes and generalizations. Facilitate a discussion of how and why stereotypes emerge, emphasizing that if students consider only stereotypes when learning about a culture, they limit their understanding of the host culture. Clarify that generalizing can also be based on incomplete or false information, but that it involves constantly testing and revising ideas while searching for general patterns in the culture. One never assumes that every person will act in the same way.
  3. Understanding & Dispelling Misperceptions. Expand the discussion to how stereotypes can impact students’ intercultural encounters while abroad. Discuss how their “identity as an American” may influence how they will be treated in the host country, both positively and negatively. Then, brainstorm ways to dispel misperceptions or combat negative stereotypes held abroad of U.S. Americans (e.g., distinguishing between constructive and obstructive criticism, demonstrating consideration for local customs/dress, learning/speaking the language, etc). 

Optional Assignment. Part One: Have students submit a 1-2 page reflective essay answering the question: How might you go about discovering how people in the host culture would like to be treated? Part Two: Upon return, have students submit a 2-3 page reflective essay on how their attitudes toward the U.S. and the host country changed as a result of the international experience. Or for greater difficulty consider, “The Decline in America’s Reputation: Is it our Values or our Policies?”

Tool Evaluation: 

The optional assignment could count for 10% of the overall course grade – 5% for each reflective essay.  Students should be assessed on the completeness and thoroughness of their writing.

Tool Time Requirement: 

One class session for Open House (optional, post-study abroad)

Tool Author(s): 

Adapted by S. Knell & A. Ogden, 2009 from Paige, R. et all (2006) Maximizing Study Abroad (2nd Ed.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota.

Tool Handouts [.doc or .docx]: 

Site copyright 2012, University of Kentucky, Education Abroad.
Toolkit Authors: Duarte Morais, Ph.D., Anthony C. Ogden, Ph.D., & Christine Buzinde, Ph.D.
More information about the toolkit authors.

Danland theme modification by Vaughan A. Fielder.